The Real Heroes of Bowhunting
December 30, 2013
There is a collective discontent in the hunting community over television hunters and other hunters who have made a name for themselves through the various media outlets. Even though I come from more than two decades of television production, I can understand where that discontent comes from.
Today, it seems as if everyone who picks up a bow also needs to pick up an HD camera and record their exploits afield, and further try to promote themselves through any avenue possible.
I'll never discourage anyone from pursuing their dreams, because if there is a cornerstone to the greatness of our country, it's that ability to risk it all on hope of achievement. Most of the hunters who have taken those risks have ended up far from the limelight, while a few have made a serious, hardworking go of it and ended up living their dream.
Others are simply driven by the need to hunt and challenge themselves at every opportunity, and occasionally fame finds them simply due to the fact that it's impossible to ignore admirable accomplishments.
It wasn't until I was dangerously close to finishing my North American Super Slam that I realized how much some of these hunters had inspired me. After arrowing a desert bighorn on video and completing my Super Slam, I decided to pen a book titled "Adventure Bowhunter" and finish a DVD with the same name, showcasing all of the North American big-game animals I had taken to finish my slam.
Throughout the writing and production process, I contacted fellow Super Slammers and other accomplished bowhunters and what I discovered was that they all have a few things in common...and that they all deserve everything they've gotten.
Unknown, But Known
If I had to pick a few of the best hunters I know who have not endeavored to self-promote, at the top of the list would be New York resident Tom Hoffman. Although not truly unknown (he is actually far from it), Hoffman has credentials most hunters have probably never heard of. For instance, he was the first bowhunter to get a Pope and Young Super Slam, which means he not only bow-killed all 29 big-game animals in North America, but every one of them qualified for the Pope and Young record book.
Think about that.
Hoffman also achieved the Triple Slam in the same year as Archie Nesbitt, who is another bowhunter who has accomplished an insane amount throughout his career. The Triple Slam, which consists of the Grand Slam of Sheep, the Capra World Slam and the Ovis World Slam, is no joke.
To put it into further perspective, consider that Hoffman and Nesbitt are the only two bowhunters to ever take the 28 mountain-dwelling animals that make up the Triple Slam. Anyone who has ever hiked high into the thin air of a mountain range to try to arrow a single animal that has evolved to live in alpine peaks and rocky screes knows how difficult it is, let alone 28 of them!
It's easy to look upon hunters who have accomplished such feats and write them off as ultra-rich folks looking for adventurous ways to spend their money. While it's true that it takes serious funding to hunt all over the world, it's also true that hunters such as Hoffman remain down to earth.
In fact, I've never met someone who was so giving of information, so supportive of others and so willing to help. There were times during my quest for the Super Slam that I felt like I had hit a brick wall, especially when it came to some of the sheep species, and all it took was a single conversation with Hoffman to get the ball rolling and turn my attitude 100-percent positive.
If there is a single thread woven through most of the accomplished bowhunters I've known, it's that they are good people willing to help out anyone — especially fellow hunters. This is not limited to world-traveling hunters either. It extends through to folks I meet at my seminars and at shows who simply want to hunt near home and teach their children and grandchildren the ways of the woods.
Other hunters I've come to truly respect include guys such as Frank Noska, Jake Ensign and Ricardo Longoria. Noska is a UPS Pilot who has devoted his life to bowhunting hard, and his completion of the Super Slam while years younger than most is testament to his success.
Ensign is another Super Slammer who I met at an Archery Trade Association Show a few years ago. I developed a friendship with Ensign from that moment on and had the privilege of seeing just how devoted he is to our sport. On one of the well-known bowhunting Internet sites, Ensign often checks into the forums to offer encouragement and advice to fellow posters.
That may not seem like a big deal, but I know a lot of industry personalities who wouldn't touch something like that with a 10-foot pole, even if they had great information to offer. Ensign does it because he loves helping bowhunters.
Longoria is another not-so-well-known bowhunter who has been there and done it all. In fact, Longoria is one of only four bowhunters to achieve the coveted World Hunting Award, which is recognized by the Safari Club International.
To achieve the World Hunting Award, a bowhunter must hunt six continents and harvest at least 12 big-game Slams and 17 Pinnacles of Achievement. To boil that down into something easier to digest, consider that it takes more than 100 different species with a bow, many of which come with a huge degree of hunting difficulty.
What It Takes
All of the bowhunters I've listed are phenomenal at hunting, but it takes more than that to be great at what we do. Sure, with enough money, time and unrelenting drive to succeed, there are many more of us who could achieve plenty of these pinnacles of bowhunting. However, to look at it that way is to discredit the true reality of the best hunters and to degrade our sport as whole. Even though bowhunting is often a solitary endeavor and experience, rarely do we go at it alone.
There's almost always someone who has had their hand in our successes, and if they are the caliber of hunter we should look up to, they'll never admit that. But they were there — denying that fact to puff our chests out is perhaps the saddest thing I see in the hunting community (and I do see it, unfortunately).
I've mentioned that I reached out to all of the hunters I've already listed while focused on the completion of my Super Slam, but I also spent time gaining inspiration from guys such as Jack Frost. Frost, besides having perhaps the coolest name in the bowhunting community, is a living legend who is a gentleman's hunter, a devout Pope and Young advocate and a constant promoter of the the sport of bowhunting.
Frost is a larger-than-life example of what we should all strive to do. If you've got a love of bowhunting coursing through your veins, it's only natural to want to share that. This is why so many of the best bowhunters are also volunteers in various organizations and can often be found selflessly giving up their personal time and money for the betterment of our sport.
Few things scream "real deal" more than that.
It's probably easy to think that many, many different people need to join forces for any one individual to take a Super Slam, and you'd be spot-on for thinking that. However, it's not only recognized Slams and record-book animals that result from the aid of others.
Think about who introduced you to bowhunting or who first took you hunting at all. Every one of us has a catalyst event in our life that altered our course toward the woods and water. I'd be willing to bet my favorite bow that most of us had at least one person who gently prodded us to keep on that course. In fact, if you hunt long enough, you'll realize that family, friends and a network of well-meaning bowhunters probably contributed greatly to the fires of bowhunting that burn deep within all of us.
The Fairer Sex
All of the hunters I listed in this article have one thing in common besides being great hunters — they're all men. That doesn't mean we don't have women out there achieving major bowhunting accomplishments.
Take Anna Vorisek, for example. After slipping an arrow into a Dall's sheep in Alaska's Tok Management Area, Vorisek became the first woman to complete the Grand Slam of North American Sheep. Vorisek has also arrowed a litany of other big-game animals and serves as an inspiration to women everywhere.
It's a source of great pleasure to realize we've got legions of women of all ages picking up bows and firing arrows straight through the glass ceiling that had so long stood between the fairer sex and bowhunting adventures. These women are living proof that being the real deal involves — independent of gender — a love for archery and the bowhunting community.
Passing The Torch
Knowing what it takes to foster a love for all things archery, I've also felt it's our responsibility to present what it takes to be a real hunter and pass on the values, work ethic and enjoyment to whomever is interested in listening. This is something I've held dear ever since my first tastes of success back when I was trapping for a living and decided that I must know enough to teach a few people.
What I found was that I enjoyed teaching others how to trap, and as my career evolved, I found that I also felt lucky every day to be doing what I was. I still do. That's why I've always tried to fit in events that preach the importance of bowhunting in life, especially when those events are catered toward youth participation.
I've run into a few bowhunters in my day who are actually opposed to growing our numbers because they don't want the woods any more crowded than they already are. If you truly love bowhunting, it's atrocious to me that you'd intentionally wish for others to never experience what you experience.
Having known some great bowhunters who I've looked up to for years, and more importantly, knowing there are legions of others out there who will never end up on television or in print but are doing their best each day to positively promote our sport and encourage anyone with interest, is truly humbling.
Those hunters are the real deal, and I hope you're as lucky at meeting them as I've been over the years.